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Bluedot festival is a unique blend of science and rave

A science festival with a rocket-booster of a music line-up

  • Words: Phil Dudman | Image: Aerial Focus
  • 25 September 2019

At times like these, when the term “what on Earth?” is on the tip of most people’s tongue, we recommend a festival that strives to answer that very question. Welcome to Bluedot – a science festival with a rocket-booster of a music line-up.

Now in its fourth year, the festival’s unique mission certainly sets it apart: To inspire and entertain. To highlight the fragility of planet Earth. To explore frontiers of human advancement. To celebrate science and the exploration of the universe. And to explore collaborations in science, culture, art and technology. So no, it’s not your average festival with a fancy-dress theme. And yes, electronic music fans, it’s time to get your geek on.

Not to say there’s not some dope dressing up to contend with. In fact, with this year’s festival celebrating 50 years since the Apollo 11 mission first landed man on the moon, the disco aliens, space cadets, Storm Troopers, and rocketeers are out in force – with everything from party animals to 70-year-old science buffs getting intergalactic, and one toddler commanding her way around the site in a fully scaled-down moon buggy replica named, on enquiry, ‘The Lunar Raver’.

The site itself is nestled between Manchester and Macclesfield, at the famous Jodrell Bank Deep Space Observatory – a giant rotating radio telescope dish that used to track the superpower’s entries into the space race, discovered the first pulsar, has recently been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and provides the jaw-droppingly dramatic backdrop to the main Lovell stage – named after the site’s pioneering founder Sir Bernard Lovell.

With capacity boosted to 21,000 this year, the place is bigger but not big. That intimacy shows. And perhaps it’s down to the broad crowd’s common ground through curiosity that makes this place feel friendlier than most. But then where else can you dive into a ‘Moon talk’ with Helen Sharman (the first British cosmonaut) to a ‘Dot talk’ about the history of British gender equality with Helen Pankhurst, through processions by Extinction Rebellion, to see the pioneering presence of Kraftwerk in 3D, pounding AV shows by Jon Hopkins and Tokimonsta, and beats galore from Omar Souleyman, Derrick Carter’s Cosmic Disco, and a DJ set by Chad Jackson and The Clangers… oh, and then witness Tim O’Brien (huge Kraftwerk fan and Associate Director of Jodrell Bank for Astrophysics) take recorded messages from Hot Chip, New Order, Jon Hopkins and more, send them live to a space centre in Holland, who then BOUNCE THEM OFF THE SURFACE OF THE MOON to be picked up again moments later by the telescope right next to us – now dripping trippily with projection-mapped colours at two in the morning? Yep. Only here.

New too were the cashless wristbands that kept the bar queues down but the rain certainly brought things back down to Earth – a bit more mud bath than moondust for the first day – but nothing compared to Glaston-bogs, and once dried, there was enough spring under foot for lots of giant leaps for mankind. Other attractions came just as thick with Thursday’s Halle Orchestra performance of every sci-fi soundtrack under the sun, the Easy Star All Stars doing ‘Dub Side Of The Moon’, then the upbeat, chant-heavy Afro-electrics of KOKOKO!, potent poetry from Kate Tempest, BBC 6 Music broadcasting live from a tipi, some jet-fuelling espresso martinis from the Russian Standard Vodka trolley, and an absolute belter of a show from the local piano/double bass/drums trio of GoGo Penguin, who sent the Orbit Stage into, well, you’ve guessed it…

Set to return 23-26 July 2020, if you like your flat earth theories and are enthusiastically slapping on the sun-tan lotion for global warming, this probably isn’t the place for you. (Though you’d certainly learn a thing or two.) But if you’re inner geek needs feeding, or indeed your appetite for all things space, your love of humanity, or instinct for finding common ground with all sorts of lovely people through the cosmic collision of science, music and culture… then Bluedot comes thoroughly recommended. So synchronise watches. The countdown has begun.

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